- Young adults posed as students at a Kansas high school on the A&E documentary series “Undercover High.”
- They found that the way teenagers talk about pregnancy and parenthood has completely changed from when they were in school.
- Teen pregnancy has become more socially acceptable, the undercover adults found.
Today’s teenagers seem to be growing up faster than ever before.
Never is that more evident than when it comes to pregnancy. Once a taboo subject, teen parenthood has not only become more accepted among high-schoolers – in some cases, it’s become a status symbol.
At least that’s what seven adults observed when they spent a semester posing as students at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kansas. The undercover students, ages 21 to 26, were featured on the A&E documentary series “Undercover High.” Over the course of the spring 2017 semester, the adults made friends with students, took classes, and joined clubs in an effort to see life from a teenager’s perspective.
In spite of data showing teen pregnancy rates are slowing down, the adults discovered that talk of parenthood was surprisingly common at Highland Park. Many of the high-schoolers openly discussed plans to get pregnant and seemed to envy other students who had children.
One of the undercover participants, a kindergarten teacher named Gloria, was alarmed by the nonchalant attitudes she encountered at the school.
“With these younger girls, seeing these other girls getting pregnant, they think it’s fun and they think it’s cute,” said Gloria, who was 26 at the time the show was filmed. “That’s scary to know someone who doesn’t even know what life is about is about to raise another one.”
“When did this become cool? When did getting pregnant become a thing?” she said.
Another undercover student, a 22-year-old named Nicolette, said she thought the advent of social media has something to do with the shift in attitudes. Early episodes of “Undercover High” centered on teenagers’ relationships with their phones and social media, and how the two have transformed the day-to-day lives of high-schoolers.
“In every school around the nation, teen pregnancy has been an issue that happens. It’s just part of life. But now I think social media plays a really large role in making that more acceptable,” Nicolette told Business Insider. “Kids would post a lot about babies and things like that, and say ‘I can’t wait to be a mom.’ That wasn’t the case when I was in school.”
The issue is especially personal for Nicolette, who herself had a child her senior year of high school. She said at the time, the subject was “very taboo” and she was “ostracized” by her peers.
“A lot of people were telling me: ‘Oh, your life is over. You’re not going to be able to go to college. You’re going to drop out of high school,'” she told Business Insider. “I didn’t feel supported at all.”
Her experience at Highland Park, however, was completely different. For one, pregnant or parenting students could get counseling from social workers employed by the school. Highland Park also had a daycare center where students could drop off their children for the day. At one point 25 children would get dropped off, principal Beryl New said, although that figure decreased when some of the parents stopped coming to school.
Nicolette found herself making friends with female students who had children, and even started an after-school group where pregnant or parenting students could lend support to one another. Some of the girls were at risk of dropping out – only 40% of teen mothers finish high school, according to the latest data, and only 2% finish college by age 30.
“I know that feeling of being ostracized,” Nicolette told Business Insider. “To be a teenager in high school is hard and on top of that adding being a teen mom – that’s one foot in your youth and one foot in adulthood, and that’s really challenging.”
“Your life isn’t over, but you do have to take alternate strategies to pursuing your future.”
New, who left Highland Park after the school year to work as an administrator with the school district, said the school emphasizes responsible sexual practices in its health classes.
“As with anything, it’s how the student chooses to apply the information that the teacher is sharing,” she said.